Ottawa misses deadline to respond to Emergencies Act commission findings

Justice Paul Rouleau releases his report on the Liberal government's use of the Emergencies Act, in Ottawa, Friday, Feb.17, 2023. The Liberal government has missed its deadline to respond to the findings and recommendations of Justice Rouleau, who headed a federal inquiry into the government's first and only use of the Emergencies Act in 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

CTV News/The Liberal government has missed a deadline to respond to the findings and recommendations of Justice Paul Rouleau, who headed a federal inquiry into the government’s first and only use of the Emergencies Act in 2022.

One year ago, Rouleau issued his final report on the government’s decision to declare a public order emergency during the “Freedom Convoy” protests, which gridlocked the streets around Parliament and blocked international border crossings.

Rouleau found the government was justified in invoking the act, but made 56 recommendations for the future, including several suggested amendments to the law itself.

He ordered the government to respond to those recommendations within 12 months, to say which of them will be implemented and provide a timeline.

Rouleau didn’t impose any penalties for missing the deadline, and it wasn’t legally binding.

The public safety minister’s office says it will have more information about the government’s response “soon” and didn’t offer a justification for missing Rouleau’s deadline.

One possible wrench in the response is a Federal Court decision in January that contrasted Rouleau’s conclusions. It called the government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared the emergency just over two years ago, after thousands of protesters entrenched themselves in downtown Ottawa streets for weeks. They used big-rigs and other vehicles in a demonstration of opposition to Trudeau’s government and COVID-19 public health restrictions.

Spinoff protests also blockaded border crossings with the United States and various provincial legislatures.

The emergency declaration granted extraordinary powers to governments, police and banks to limit the protesters’ rights to freedom of assembly, freeze bank accounts and compel the co-operation of private companies, all in an effort to put a stop to the demonstrations.

It was the first time the legislation was invoked since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988, which means the various inquiries and court challenges that have followed will set a precedent for the legal threshold to use it in the future.

When Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, it triggered two investigations that were built into the legislation: a federal inquiry and a parliamentary committee, tasked with studying how the extraordinary powers granted to the federal government were used.

The committee was struck in March 2022 and has met more than two dozen times but has yet to file a substantial report. Its work has been stymied by a massive backlog of documents that must be translated into both official languages before they can be considered.

The translation work is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and MPs have expressed frustration about the delays.

The Federal Court ruling complicated matters further this week, as Conservative MP Glen Motz called for several ministers to be grilled by the committee for a second time.

He also asked for more information about the legal advice cabinet used to make its decision to use the legislation to try to quell the protests.

“Was this legal, did they follow the rules of law, was it Charter compliant? Those are all things that we need to examine as a committee,” Motz said at a meeting of the committee Tuesday.

Source: The Canadian Press